January 01, 2022
A well-developed pair of glutes not only looks great in your favorite pair of pants, but it also has several important benefits including significantly better athletic performance and reduced lower back pain. No other muscle group has been immortalized in rap songs and music videos like the glutes. We all remember the famous line..."Oh my God Becky, look at her butt.”
Strengthening the glutes always needs to be a priority and there are several ways to go about it. Squats, lunges, and deadlift variations are the best exercises to make your glutes pop. And a great tool to help with this is dumbbells because of their versatility and ease of use. Here we will go into glute anatomy and function, the benefits of strong glutes, the 10 best dumbbell glute exercises, and dumbbell leg & glute workouts.
Without further ado let’s build those glutes!
The glutes are a group of three superficial hip muscles posterior to the pelvis. They are the...
The gluteus maximus originates on the posterior of the sacrum and coccyx (lower lumbar spine), the gluteal surface of the ilium, and inserts high on the femur. The primary function of the glute max is hip extension and hyper-extension.
The gluteus medius originates on the gluteal surface of the ilium (pelvis) and inserts on the anterior aspect of the greater trochanter of the femur. The gluteus medius is deep to the gluteus maximus and its main functions are hip abduction and stabilizing the hip joint.
The gluteus minimus also originates on the gluteal surface of the ilium and originates on the anterior greater trochanter of the femur. It stabilizes the hip joint and is abduction and internal rotation of the leg.
There is, of course, more to the glutes than just hip extension. To fully develop the glutes, and to strengthen one of the strongest muscles in your body, you must train all the other movements powered by the glutes. Here are the main movements of the three gluteal muscles.
Besides looking great and the obvious sex appeal, adding strength and mass to the glutes has several important benefits, including:
1. Better Knee Stability and Ankle Mobility
Training the glutes improves glute strength and hip mobility. This helps knee stability and ankle mobility because they will not be required to pick up any shortfalls in hip mobility because you have this covered by training the glutes.
2. Reduced Lower Back Pain and Better Hip Mobility
Improving glute strength and hip mobility by doing the exercises below will help improve posture and lumbar and core stability. If the low back has to pick up any shortfalls because of limited hip mobility this may lead to lower back pain in the future.
3. Improved Balance And Agility
Being able to stop and change direction requires lower body and glute strength. This is needed when you shift your weight one way or another or when you’re rapidly changing direction. By strengthening and adding mass to your glutes you’re improving your ability to change direction at speed.
4. Better Running Performance
Strength training the glutes helps you run faster and more efficiently by improving your neuromuscular coordination, power and improves your running efficiency because of better movement coordination and stride efficiency (study).
There are a few ways you will hold the dumbbells to increase the training effect, particularly on the squats and lunges, except for the sumo squats (which will have a specific grip).
All in all, there is no right or wrong way to hold the dumbbells. Use the position that challenges you and fits in line with your fitness goals.
There are many great dumbbell exercises to develop the glutes and here we have narrowed it down to the 10 best exercises to give you glutes of steel.
This is the granddaddy of all split squats. Because one foot is elevated, your glutes and quads are challenged through a larger range of motion than most other exercises on this list. And being unilateral this will iron out strength imbalances between sides and improve your leg drive. If you were to do one accessory exercise to improve your squats and deadlift performance, this would be it.
How to do Bulgarian split squats:
Form tips: Placing a weight plate by your front foot will shorten the time it takes to set up on the other leg.
Best rep range: 8-16 reps.
Progression: Barbell elevated split squat.
Regression: Split squat with both feet on the ground.
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift (RDL) is similar to the barbell variation but (generally) with less weight load and increased grip strength demands. Yes, the barbell variation allows for a heavier load, but a dumbbell variation is without a doubt a legitimate option. Because the dumbbell never touches the ground this exercise gives you constant tension in the glute and hamstring muscles. Moreover, you can alter the angles by where you position the dumbbells (i.e. directly in front or slightly to the sides of your legs), making it a better option to isolate areas.
How to do Dumbbell RDLs:
Form tips: Keep the dumbbells close to your leg at all times.
Best rep range: 8-16.
Progression: Single leg deadlift.
Regression: Hip thrusts.
Related: RDL Exercise Guide
The Single-leg RDL is one of the harder hinge variations simply due to balance demands, but when you nail it, it provides you many benefits. These benefits include reducing muscle imbalances, hamstring strains, better balance, and glute hypertrophy. This is best performed at the start with bodyweight and when you master it then add dumbbells.
How to do Single Leg RDLs:
Form tips: Really grip the floor with your feet for better balance and if you need, place your foot down each rep. If you have trouble balancing, you can put your back foot up on a slight platform and perform the deadlift (like an elevated staggered stance deadlift) or you can hold onto something for balance, but we recommend working on the balance for the full benefits of the single-leg RDL.
Best rep range: 6-12 reps per side.
Progression: None (besides heavier dumbbells, of course).
Regression: Romanian deadlift.
Dumbbell step-up is one of the simplest single-leg exercises and really hits the glutes through a large range of motion. The major advantage of the step-up is that it can be performed by all ability levels. You can adjust the height of the box to make it more or less difficult and you can load this with one or two dumbbells depending on your goals. This exercise can develop explosive leg power to depending on the speed of your reps, which helps you jump higher and run faster. Finally, because of minimal eccentric muscle contractions, step-ups are easier on your knees.
How to Do Weighted Step Ups:
Form tips: Perform without shoes for more of a balance challenge.
Best rep range: 6-15 reps.
Progression: Increase the height of the box and balance on one leg when you’ve finished the movement. You can also try side step ups, to hit your glutes from a different angle.
Regression: Reduce the height of the box and perform with bodyweight only.
Goblet squat is not only great for building the glutes like all squat variations, but it helps improve hip mobility and squat form too, With the weight being anteriorly loaded it keeps your body more upright, allowing you to get deeper into the squat. This greater range of motion puts a bigger stretch in the glutes, which means more muscle-building potential. Plus, the hip mobility benefits will help with your barbell squats and deadlifts.
How to do Goblet Squats:
Form tip: Keep your chest up, shoulders down and upper back engaged to keep a neutral spine.
Best rep range: 8 to 20.
Progression: Front squat.
Regression: Sumo squat.
Sumo squat is one of the easiest squat variations because the weight is close to the muscles being worked. The wider stance of the sumo squat helps to engage your glutes more and being easier allows you to perform more reps for better glute building potential. This can be performed with one dumbbell (easier) or with two dumbbells depending on how much load is needed for your goals.
How to do Dumbbell Sumo Squats:
Form tip: Squeeze your glues at the end of the movement for more glute activation.
Best rep range: 8 to 20.
Progression: Goblet squat.
Regression: Bodyweight sumo stance squat.
Donkey kicks is a popular glute exercise in nearly every exercise video you watch and classes alike, and this is because it works. Although holding a dumbbell between your calf and hamstring can be uncomfortable, this exercise directly targets the glutes and hamstrings and will have you feeling the burn. Because of the lighter load, this is best performed for higher reps, aiming for a real glute pump.
How to do dumbbell Donkey Kicks:
Form tip: There is a temptation to hyperextend the lower back for more ROM. Don’t do this.
Best rep range: 15-20.
Regression: Bodyweight donkey kicks or banded donkey kicks.
Related: Glute Kickback Variations
The dumbbell hip thrust has the disadvantage of load but for some lifters, the dumbbell will feel more comfortable than the barbell. Nevertheless, this variation will still build strength and mass in your glutes when performed for higher repetitions and maximum glute contraction. Hip thrust variations like this are great for building lockout strength in your glutes for squats and deadlifts.
How to do dumbbell Hip Thrusts:
Form tips: Make sure your legs form a 90-degree angle to properly train the glutes. Use a little wider of a stance for more glute activation, and be sure to squeeze the heck out of your glutes at the top and hold.
Best rep range: 8 to 15 reps
Progression: Single-leg hip thrust.
Regression: Dumbbell hip extensions (glute bridges) on the floor.
Related: Hip Thrust Exercise Guide
Side lunges help strengthen your glutes in a different plane of motion and involve the gluteus medius and minimus more than the other variation on this list. This lunge variation strengthens and mobilizes your adductors (groin) muscles which improve your overall hip mobility and help to prevent groin strains. And it improves your ability to go side to side, improving your overall agility. It should be noted that while this exercise improves hip mobility, it will require it in the first place so if you have poor hip mobility, work on that first.
How to do dumbbell Side Lunge:
Form tips: Only hinge into your working hip as much your opposite leg allows. No need to strain a muscle here.
Best rep range: 8-12 reps.
Progression: Single leg deadlift.
Regression: Mini band lateral walk.
Reverse lunges are easier on your knees than other lunge variations on this list because stepping back makes it a glute-dominant exercise. This variation is great if and when you’re suffering from knee pain. Because this is glute dominant it helps to improve hip mobility which has direct carry over to your squats and deadlifts. As with most single-leg variations, reverse lunges help to decrease muscle imbalances between sides.
How to do dumbbell Reverse Lunge:
Form tip: Taking a larger step back will increase the tension on your glutes.
Best rep range: 8 to 15 on both sides.
Progression: Side lunge.
Pulling from the exercises above, we can create a complete lower body dumbbell workout. By complete we mean it hits all the muscles of your lower body - gluteal muscles, thighs, and calves.
Here are two sample workouts that you can rotate between...
Want other glute exercises with different equipment?
Let us know what your favorite dumbbell glute exercise is in the comments below!
More Dumbbell Exercises:
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